It’s happened again. Almost always this situation arises when I’m doing something in continental Europe. This time I’m at a dance conference that brings together practitioners and researchers. Last time it was at a dance festival. I’m talking to someone, sometimes a choreographer but more often a curator or someone involved in programming dance performances. There’s a slight pause in the conversation and then she or he says, ‘You know, I don’t really know that much about what’s happening in dance in the UK’, and I try not to apologise but say there’s some British-based dance artists doing some really interesting things. Recently I’ve been mentioning people associated with Bellyflop, and some of the younger artists I’ve come across through working with ADAD. But at the back of my mind I’m cross. We are so cut off in the UK from the more interesting things that are happening across the English Channel and the North Sea.
It was an artist researcher from Spain who recently summed it up the best: ‘Why’ she asked me ‘is London such a terrible place for seeing interesting dance when it is such an important place for everything else? When I’m in London I see super interesting art exhibitions, great theatre productions, talks and conferences, film festivals, music … everything is really special. Why is the British dance world so out of step with this?’
A little history: with the honourable exception of Nottdance, British audiences didn’t get the chance to see the work of Xavier Le Roy, Jérôme Bel – or other members of the generation who started showing new work in the 1990s – until the mid 2000s by which time there were new things happening in Europe that were responding to this.
And now, those British-based dancers who are in touch with European ideas and concerns – doing things at Impulstanz or Tanzquartier, or Berlin, or Brussels – seem fairly marginalised in the UK. There is a general lack of context in which their work could be understood, no discourse circulating through which to discuss it.
But I’m not, of course, going to mention this to the people I meet. What good would that do? Instead I put on a positive face and recommend a few names they really should look into. And I’m angry. People haven’t been doing their jobs properly. It shouldn’t be me having to do this promotional work. I shouldn’t have to keep finding myself in this embarrassing situation.